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Carpetbaggers and Scalawags Previous Next
Digital History ID 3106


According to myth, unscrupulous carpetbaggers from the North and unprincipled scalawags from the South manipulated the freedmen to gain control of the state governments. Backed by the presence of federal troops, they embarked on an orgy of corruption, humiliating and impoverishing the helpless South and unsettling relations between blacks and whites. At last - the myth continues - the nation grew weary of the corruption and the cost of maintaining troops in the South. The army was withdrawn and the responsible white citizenry regained control of their governments.

According to this stereotype popularized after Reconstruction, the carpetbaggers were dishonest fortune seekers whose possession could be put in a satchel. "They are fellows who crawled down South on the track of our armies...stealing and plundering," said editor Horace Greeley.

Contrary to legend, however, most carpetbaggers were not impoverished opportunists seeking easy money in the South. Rather they were former soldiers who migrated to the South to seek a livelihood. They generated hostility because they supported the Republican Party and defended the civil and political rights of freedmen.

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